Shining Dodecahedron

One geek's views on role-playing and games in general.

This place is all about discussing paper-and-pencil roleplaying games. I'm Jay, and I run this joint, but that doesn't make me smarter than you. This will all work best if I say things, and you say what you think about them, lather, rinse, repeat. With luck we can all understand the hobby a little better. If you have a topic that you would like me to start a thread about, post a comment here. If you've got something to say about characters (my ongoing topic du jour), post a comment here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Ripping Off Budget/Fan Mail from PTA

I was doing some work on Gallant last night and I started to tackle Plot Points (or Story Points?), which are my player resource for affecting the story. After a quick review of the PTA rules for Budget/Fan Mail, I couldn't think of a better way to set things up.

Something that has been bothering me is the GM's ability to throw whatever he wants at the characters in the game. Player empowerment is all well and good, but if the GM still has the ability to set up whatever situations he wants, he can still railroad the game. Needing to spend a GM resource to bring in adversity seems like the ideal solution.

Does anyone have good or bad experiences with this aspect of PTA? I still haven't had the opportunity to play it, so I'm operating on assumptions gained by reading the rules.

Does anyone have other ideas about how to set up a system of GM resources? Examples from other games?


Blogger John Harper said...

The way Dogs does it is to create the opposition according to a set method. The GM can always bring in opposition, but they have to conform to strict rules with regard to trait ratings and such.

And the name lists from town creation keep the GM from suddenly dropping a 100 cavalry soldiers from the clear blue sky.

(I'm doing something similar for Danger Patrol, except the players create the opposition together, as a group, before play begins.)

Trollbabe curtails GM power by only letting the player roll for conflicts (and narrating their own defeats). The "difficulty" of any conflict can be altered slightly by the GM, but there's really no in-system way for the GM to railroad with opposition.

The Anti-Pool method is another good one. You can oppose another player with as many of your dice as you want, but each successful die is removed from your pool. So you almost always want to bid as low as possible to win.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Jay Loomis said...

Thanks for the great list o' ideas, John.
So I went out onto the interWeb to find more info about Danger Patrol and I got a bunch of problems. The site ( gives me a 500 error in German. And the Shooting Iron site gives me 403 errors. What gives? I want to know more about this extremely cool sounding game!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 2:38:00 PM  
Blogger John Harper said...

Yes, the Danger Patrol and Shootingiron sites were hacked to death a while back. Shootingiron itself is no more, so we let the domain go. The DP site will be back once I get the domain transferred to my new host.

For now, the only place for Danger Patrol goodness is the design blog: The Mighty Atom.

Thursday, June 16, 2005 12:49:00 AM  
Blogger John Harper said...

I should also say that this topic (GM authority and such) is very much on my mind lately, particularly in conversations with Matt Wilson. PTA has a kickass solution, as does Matt's new game, Galactic.

I think it's critical for modern game designs to be very clear about the boundaries of GM authority, and authority in general at the game table.

It's nice to see that you're taking up the torch, too, Jay.

Thursday, June 16, 2005 12:57:00 AM  
Blogger Matt Wilson said...

Well, you know, one interesting criticism of the whole budget thing was "why wouldn't you throw as much adversity as possible at the characters?"

The problem of "GM's whim" adversity usually relates to railroading and the likely loss of character (and therefore player) effectiveness. But in PTA you're requesting the scenes you want, and there's no real diminished effectiveness from losing a conflict, so there's nothing really bad about a producer who goes for maximum difficulty every time until the budget runs out.

And by all means, steal! Oh, wait, I just said it was okay, so it's not really stealing, is it?

Thursday, June 16, 2005 8:12:00 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

PTA aside, Dogs is pretty much the only game presently-in-print that I think handles this well. (and, personally, I think PTA does it better.) Universalis and other GMless games settle the problem by simply having no GM.

Nobilis also does something interesting with limitation on the GM, based on the fact that it has very fixed target numbers (get a 5 Miracle of Domain and you can destroy something... period.) But the GM can still throw Angels and Demons at you until the end of time.

Games in development that handle this well include Scarlet Wake, The Noble Fiends of Our Empire, Breaking the Ice, Under the Bed, and probably a thousand more I don't know about.

Polaris handles this in an interesting way -- the "GM" can say anything and it happens, but the player can also say anything and it happens. (and, yeah, there are a few more rules than that, particularly if you want to change what the other guy said.) It seems to work well in practice, though.


Thursday, June 16, 2005 8:50:00 AM  
Anonymous JasonL said...


What about Donjon? The whole 1 die = 1 fact modification of the Sorcerer currency system, with the loser narrating, seems to provide some decent balance.

The fact that the GM is final arbiter, rather than having the chips fall where they may, and the fact that there's not much direction in terms of how to limit the scope of facts, are the main problems with this system.


"Oh, it's you...

P.S. - Nailing the GM authority thing is key in my opinion to creating a breakthrough game.

Thursday, June 16, 2005 5:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Eric Provost said...


I kinda stole the DitV model and rearranged it a bit for FH8. Unfortunately I don't have that bit published yet, so I'd like to mention it here. :)

In FH8 the GM get's a standard set of statistics that they can apply in any way they like to any NPC they'd like to show up. That standard set of statistics will likely sit right around, if not just under the power level of a fresh PC. If the GM wants to include heftier opposition than that then he's got to spend some GM currency to do so. Currency that the GM earns by including the elements of the game that the players are interested in seeing.

So, when you look at the GM's power being the GM's ability to shape the story, and you look at the GM being rewarded for including the things the players want to see in the game as the players exercising control over the shape of the story, then you see that the GM is allowed to shape the story when and if the players have already shaped the story.

But it's kinda turned on it's head and hidden to keep my players from thinking anything new is happening. Shhhh!

Friday, June 17, 2005 1:30:00 PM  
Blogger Nathan P. said...

I'm planning to import fan mail into my upcoming Adventure! game. In one of the coolest moves WW ever made, Adventure! has Inspiration points, which players can spend to Dramatically Edit the SIS - like, if your falling off a cliff, spend a couple and you can narrate that a branch is sticking out in just the right place for you to grab it. Stuff like that.

I'm going to say that players can give each other Inspiration points from a central pool when they do cool things. I'm still fiddling with how the central pool gets fed, but I think instead of giving out experience points, I'll put that much Inspiration in the pool, and you can spend it to improve stats as well.

Also, I tackled the GM authority issue in my IGC entry, Carry. Basically, whenever anyone rolls a dice they then give that dice to anyone else, including the GM, and all players including the GM start the game with a certain number of dice. When the GM rolls, his dice go out of play. I haven't played Carry at all yet, so I don't know if it works, but its another idea.

Monday, June 20, 2005 12:24:00 AM  
Blogger Jay Loomis said...

Thanks, all, for your comments.

Donjon is interesting. My group had a really hard time with it. In part, I think, because it involves both a semi-structured plot, and lots of player direction. We got chaos.

I have played Adventure. I can see how you could use the inspiration point system to really give players some sway--however, the system as written is full of dire warnings not to let the players "break your story" with inspiration. It's kind of the extreme version of the impossible thing before breakfast. They're telling you that you, the player, have the power to change the story. They even give you some currency with which to do it. But at the same time they are telling the GM that any attempt to take his beloved story off track should be disallowed. So, as cool as it may be, it provides no check whatsoever on the GM's power.

Monday, June 20, 2005 7:51:00 AM  
Blogger Nathan P. said...

Heh, I noticed that too. And I'm throwing it out, for my game - I'm gonna tell the players that I don't have veto power over what they spend Inspiration on. *shrugs* Yay drift. But yes, you're correct in that at best it adds to player power without subtracting from GM power at all.

Monday, June 20, 2005 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Joshua BishopRoby said...

In my current project players narrate the results of their successful die rolls, and the GM can narrate or delegate the narration of failures -- to the player who rolled the bad dice or to someone else at the table. This is in addition to hardwired rules stating that any player (including the GM) can call for dice resolution at any time.

I'm skeptical of the possibility that railroading and power-mongering can be eradicated by system rules. Therefore it's still possible for the GM to railroad in FLFS; it just wouldn't be as much fun.

Monday, June 27, 2005 1:30:00 PM  
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Saturday, October 22, 2005 11:54:00 PM  

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